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Rideau Hall pick disappoints separatist hard-liners

Sovereignty watchdogs stir up gossip, saying Jean, spouse were two of their own

MONTREAL -- The imminent arrival of Michaëlle Jean and husband Jean-Daniel Lafond at Rideau Hall has received positive reviews across Canada, but raised the hackles of one disenchanted group -- Quebec's hard-line separatists.

An article in the next issue of Le Québécois, the voice of the province's sovereignty watchdogs, says the group was crushed by Prime Minister Paul Martin's nomination of Ms. Jean and Mr. Lafond because separatists considered the duo as two of their own.

"She may be a host on Radio-Canada (a federal Crown corporation), but she's been soaking for ages in the sovereigntist atmosphere that characterizes her intellectual circle," Quebec novelist René Boulanger writes in the article. "Those who liked Michaëlle Jean have good reason to be disappointed."

Although the disclosures might raise eyebrows in the rest of Canada, they're unlikely to elicit surprise in Quebec, where support for sovereignty waxes and wanes, and separatism's most ardent supporters have always come from artistic and intellectual circles.

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Still, it has fuelled gossip about the federalist credentials of Mr. Lafond and Ms. Jean, a broadcaster.

Mr. Lafond, a French-born documentary filmmaker, has devoted several movies to major Quebec nationalist figures, including a 1994 movie that reunites stalwarts from the terrorist Front de libération du Québec.

Mr. Boulanger said that during a visit to the couple's Montreal home in the early '90s, Mr. Lafond told him that the renovations had been done by former FLQ member Jacques Rose, part of the cell that kidnapped and murdered Pierre Laporte.

Mr. Lafond was especially proud that Mr. Rose had built a bookshelf with a secret compartment where weapons could be stashed. "Jean-Daniel found it very funny," Mr. Boulanger recalled.

Staff at Le Québécois said the article isn't due out before early September but decided to send copies to journalists this week in hopes it would embarrass the Paul Martin government, which they acknowledged had scored a "coup" by enlisting Ms. Jean as governor-general.

"Jean-Daniel Lafond was a declared sovereigntist," Mr. Boulanger asserted yesterday. "In close circles, we always considered him one of ours. . . . I find it ironic that a friend of the independence movement will be No. 2 at Rideau Hall."

Melanie Gruer, a spokesperson for the PMO, dismissed the allegations as part of a smear campaign. She said that Mr. Lafond didn't use the bookshelves to store weapons.

"They are committed Canadians," she said of the couple. "Both came from other countries and have been very clear in stating their commitment to Canada and to Canadians."

Mr. Boulanger said he hasn't spoken about politics with either Ms. Jean or Mr. Lafond for several years, and doesn't know where they currently stand on the national-unity question.

In fact, some see the couple's acceptance of the governor-general and viceregal posts as evidence they have joined the federalist fold, and perhaps switched camps. Over the years, voters have accepted seeing public figures, such as ex-premier Lucien Bouchard and federal MP Jean Lapierre, change sides on the national-unity issue.

Odile Tremblay, culture columnist for the daily Le Devoir, who knows Mr. Lafond personally, said that while his artistic background certainly placed him in a nationalist milieu, his acceptance of the viceregal post means he'll "play the game." She said the couple are "internationalists" more than Quebec nationalists.

"If anyone's betrayed, it's the sovereigntist camp," she said. Mr. Lafond's greatest challenge will be keeping mum, Ms. Tremblay predicted. "He's a guy who loves to talk, and he has ideas. He'll have trouble not speaking up."

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